“The kids who do their homework on Friday can play on Sunday.” Teachers start saying this when your kids are still at an early age. The same thing goes for us grown-ups: professionals who understand how to organize themselves and comprehend the importance of each task, project and attitude are never taken by surprise by accumulated work or unexpected crises. It’s not that crises don’t come up for organized people, they are hit with them just like everyone else. However, using well-thought out method for prioritizing tasks will let you conduct your professional life without having to worry constantly about putting out fires.
Are you ready to get better prepared for unexpected contingencies? Read our post on risk management.
Don’t put the cart before the horse
Part of effectively prioritizing tasks is understanding the difference between things that are important and things that are genuinely urgent. Things that are important will make a difference in the company’s management. It includes goals that need to be achieved, long-term planning and everything else that will lead the organization to thrive. Urgent tasks need to be tackled immediately, or else a potential opportunity could be lost, or a potential problem could quickly worsen. Two obvious examples would be investment opportunity that requires quick decision-making, or, on the other hand, a PR crisis.
At first glance, one gets the impression that the two are similar. However, when companies fail in prioritizing tasks, they end up wasting time, money and effort on secondary tasks. A lack of prioritization will lead to missed deadlines, lost opportunities and even reduced employee morale.
Agile is a methodology that has everything to do with prioritizing tasks. The process originated in the software development industry during the early 1970s. These days it helps managers organize projects in a structured way, greatly facilitating the identification of the most important tasks or projects. Read more about in this post on agile methodology.
Next, let’s learn about some other tools that can help you in prioritizing tasks
The prioritization matrix
Managers love matrices. They help visualize the business and provide more light on the decision-making process. So, to organize our tasks more efficiently we can build a matrix for prioritizing tasks. First, make a chart, with a horizontal axis and a vertical axis. On the horizontal axis, list the level of urgency. The farther it is to the right, the greater the urgency. Now, on the vertical axis, list the level of importance so that the most important activities are at the top of the graph.
Divide this area into four equal parts. Notice that the quadrants now correspond to tasks:
- Both very important and very urgent: Crises.
- Very important, but not very urgent: Goals and plans.
- Not important, but very urgent: Interruptions.
- Neither important nor urgent: Distractions.
After you have divided your tasks amongst these quadrants, you can then decide how to proceed and here is our suggestion on what, exactly, you should do.
- Crises: No time to lose, they are your immediate priority.
- Goals and Plans: Make plans to set aside some time that is specifically dedicated for this, and then follow through. Without this kind of focus, your business will not thrive.
- Interruptions: Delegate whatever is possible and only take care of things that won’t disrupt your more important tasks.
- Distractions: Ignore them. Your business won’t suffer any consequences if you stop checking your Facebook page every few minutes, right?
Now you’ll notice that you’ve already dealt with a quarter of your matrix. Two-fourths if you manage to delegate. Better, right? But, if you need to enter into more detail, there’s another useful matrix for prioritizing tasks: it is called the GUT matrix.
The GUT Matrix
The name of this matrix for prioritizing tasks comes from the initials of the words Gravity, Urgency, and Trend. We have already discussed gravity and urgency. The trend is the direction that the issue is likely to take in the future. Will it worsen quickly? Will it stay the same? Alternatively, could it work itself out without your intervention?
The use of this sophisticated matrix offers much more specific solutions for prioritizing tasks. To mount a GUT matrix, list the tasks you want to sort on a worksheet. Some examples may include a system upgrade, the hiring of a new employee or replacing equipment.
For each task, assign a value from 1 to 5 in each column for G, U, and T. 5 is the most severe, critical, or urgent. After you’ve done this, take a look and see which task has the highest score, and that’s it, you’ve already identified your highest priority. The technique is a bit more complicated, but it provides a greater level of detail so that managers can make decisions based on better information.
However, we all know that just defining priorities isn’t enough.
Created by Franklin Valadares, the COO and co-founder of Runrun.it, this technique addresses situations where the sheer level of concurrent tasks seems to outweigh the working capacity of a company or team. Even if experienced managers can predict the speed at which each task can be executed, the accurate and effective prediction of the total number of deadlines and costs becomes nearly impossible. That’s because the day-to-day operations of a company are full of unforeseen events.
Soon, your teams will become overloaded, and the pressure will begin to affect your employees’ morale and productivity. The deadlines and costs that had been negotiated with your customers are no longer what you had planned. What’s the best reaction in this type of situation? Moments like this require a high level of skill in prioritizing tasks. Simultaneously, the stack methodology allows employees to approach parallel projects in an organized way. Planned deadlines and costs are calculated at a reduced, but realistic value. It’s both good for the customer and good for the company.
There is more about Stack Methodology here.
Another very useful matrix for prioritizing tasks that we use after having already located the most serious and urgent problems, is the B.A.S.I.C.O, or BASIC, matrix. It focuses on finding the best solutions to problems that have already been ranked in order of priority.
As you may have guessed, the name of this matrix is another acronym. B.A.S.I.C.O refers to:
- Benefits: What is the size of the gain that a specific solution will bring to the company or the people involved?
- Amplitude: How many people, departments or what percentage of the market will this solution affect?
- Satisfaction: What impact will this solution have on the satisfaction of internal clients and employees?
- Investment: What is the cost of implementing this solution?
- Customers: What impact will this solution have on customers or consumer satisfaction?
- Operationality: How easy is it to implement this solution to the problem?
Just as you did with the GUT matrix, set up a worksheet where the solutions are classified by these six criteria, with scores ranging from 1 to 5. In this way, you will reach an objective classification of how each potential decision will affect your company or project, and which solution should be implemented as a priority.
Online tools for prioritizing tasks
The subject is endless and has already been discussed in-depth by many experts in the field. For this reason, several ready-made matrix models for prioritizing tasks are already available on the internet for download, whether in the form of spreadsheets or even apps.
But, if you want to use the best possible tool for your company, you won’t be able to do any better than our tailored management tool, Runrun.it. With it, you directly apply the stack methodology, allowing your teams to work on multiple projects simultaneously. No mess, no lost time or effort. Our tool will organize and prioritize your tasks automatically. Sign up for a free trial now: http://runrun.it.